Add some sequins to your hand sanitiser because it’s time to get down to serious ballroom business. This Saturday (7.25pm on BBC One), the class of Strictly Come Dancing 2020 will make their live dancefloor debuts and face the judging panel’s critiques for the first time.
We were introduced to this year’s dancefloor dozen during last week's launch show, saw them paired up with their professional dance partners and got a fleeting glimpse of their dance potential during the climactic group number.
The newly formed pro-celebrity couples have since disappeared into their “support bubbles” for a week’s intensive training. So who will rise to the occasion this weekend and who will wilt under the spotlight?
Here’s our (quite possibly foolishly) early predictions for how this year’s glitterball contest will pan out…
WHO WILL BE IN THE FINAL?
EastEnders actress Maisie Smith is bookies’ favourite and already facing “ringer” accusations, thanks to her stage school training and victory on last year’s Children in Need Strictly special. The baby of the ballroom at just 19, Smith certainly looked the most accomplished during last Saturday’s group number and in Spanish pro Gorka Marquez, has a firecracker of a partner who will push her to the limit. The potential problem is that voting viewers tend to prefer contestants who improve and go on a “journey™” over those who are suspiciously polished from the start. But that’s a debate for later in the contest. Smith should sail through the early stages.
Fellow “yoof”-friendly contestant HRVY also looked strong from what we glimpsed in the group routine. The YouTuber and pop singer looks fleet of foot, a confident performer and well-matched with pro partner Janette Manrara. The pocket rockets should propel themselves deep into the contest, while HRVY can also mobilise his frighteningly large social media following – more than 10m globally – to hit the voting lines. Expect him to follow in the footsteps of fellow vlogger Joe Sugg two years ago and dance all the way to the final.
WHO ARE THE DARK HORSES?
Many assumed that 55-year-old funnyman Bill Bailey was cast to add comedy value. But don’t underestimate the hirsute cult hero. He surprised a few people during the launch show with his nifty moves. As a classically trained multi-instrumentalist, he has musicality and timing but he slipped in some sharp kicks too. Bailey boasted that he’d read Craig Revel Horwood's Step-By-Step Guide to Ballroom Dancing, which might at least make the villainous judge go gently on him. When Bailey got paired with reigning pro champion Oti Mabuse, his status as a surprise contender was sealed. His odds promptly plummeted from 66/1 to 16/1.
Read the first instalment Bill Bailey's Strictly diary
The trailblazing boxing champion forms Strictly’s first ever same-sex pairing with powerhouse Russian pro Katya Jones. The excitement surrounding this new era, along with the passionate support of the LGBTQ+ community, should see the couple garner a devoted fanbase. Adams is charismatic, light on her feet and has an Olympian’s competitive mentality, while Jones is renowned for her creative choreography. Expect them to switch who leads, plump for upbeat music, be boldly styled and spark serious buzz.
The 60-year-old actress did ballet as a child, then tap and modern dance in her teens. This might have been decades ago but as we saw in the launch show, she retains a dancer’s grace, with elegant arms and crisp footwork. Quentin was endearingly thrilled to be paired with popular South African pro Johannes Radebe and they promise to be an entertaining double act. It would come as welcome news if a mature woman could go all the way. The only worry is whether Quentin can turn her hand to Latin and if her creaky knees can hold up.
WHO WILL LANGUISH IN THE MIDDLE OF THE TABLE?
The former member of boyband The Wanted has a lot to live up to, because his bandmate Jay McGuiness lifted the glitterball trophy five years ago and has since been voted the best ever Strictly champion. No pressure, then. Such high expectations appeared to get to George during the launch show, where he appeared the most nervous of any celebrity. However, he has all the attributes of a strong dancer. If pro partner Dianne Buswell can help him conquer his fears and raise his energy levels, he could yet move into the top tier.
The Radio 1 presenter has formed “Team Alfo” with smiley Slovenian pro Aljaž Škorjanec. He’s had middling partners in recent years with Kate Silverton and Viscountess Emma Weymouth. Amfo could also fall into this category. She has good musicality, high energy levels and a winning smile but might struggle with slower dances and the finer points of footwork. DJs have also fared disappointingly in recent years, with Vick Hope and Dev Griffin both exiting around the one-month mark.
The Made In Chelsea socialite is getting a second shot at Strictly after being forced to withdraw through injury last year. Laing’s irrepressible attitude means he’ll form a high-energy partnership with longest-serving female pro Karen Hauer. It remains to be seen whether he can combine that infectious enthusiasm with style and technique. Laing looked to be rushing through moves and throwing away his finishes during the launch show. He needs to calm down, while still keeping the fun factor.
The 33-year old former Royal Marine Commando, who sustained life-changing injuries from an IED bomb blast in Afghanistan, certainly has public support. He's already formed a close Scottish-Welsh bond with pro partner Amy Dowden, who has faced her own physical challenges (she suffers from Crohn’s disease). Chalmers might have charm, courage and likeability but his hoofing ability is more open to question. He looked gangly and awkward during the launch show, so could be a candidate for mid-series elimination.
WHO WILL BE LEAVING EARLY?
Prancing politicians on Strictly can go one of two ways: clutched to the nation’s hearts and kept in for novelty value (see Ed Balls, Ann Widdecombe), or unceremoniously voted out the first chance the public get (see Edwina Currie). In a year when politicians have hardly covered themselves in glory, the fear is that Jacqui Smith will fall into the latter camp, especially since she’s best known for an expenses scandal. Her stiff-as-a-despatch box performance in the launch show wasn't promising either. Her main hope is that the Anton factor (she's partnered with Strictly stalwart Mr Du Beke) could save her.
Sportsmen often struggle with the performance element of dance and get sent for an early bath – see James Cracknell and David James last year. Despite being a self-confessed Strictly superfan, retired NFL cornerback Bell could face similar problems. In the launch show, he looked like he was permanently bracing himself to tackle a wide receiver. With his broad grin and strong Californian accent, he seems terribly American and UK viewers can be turned off by that. Partner Luba Mushtuk is also the least experienced pro. The Bell might toll in early November.
Two series ago, her fellow Good Morning Britain newsreader Charlotte Hawkins was knocked out in week three. Singh could suffer a similar fate. The 43-year-old looks like she’ll be game for an upbeat Latin boogie but might lack the artistry and patience to learn ballroom. She’s already admitted to having a “total meltdown”, storming out of rehearsals and refusing to talk to her pro partner Giovanni Pernice, which is a worrying sign this early in the contest.
Who will win Strictly Come Dancing 2020? Predict the winner here